Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cold War Recall

Today in Prague, President Obama and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev signed a nuclear arms control treaty that would mandate modest reductions in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. At the height of the Cold War that nearly heated in the 1950s and 1960s, it was likely difficult for leaders on either side to foresee an end to the conflict. Now, nearly twenty years since its conclusion, the legacy of this competition between world powers for increased military spending and technological prowess is still relevant to current world news.

With recent explorations into America’s Role in the World and current events on the mind, I thought April’s “Outside the Box” should take us back to that Cold War Era. And thus, I give you this month's selection:

Object: Scale Model, Nike Zeus B Missile
Collection: Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection

More about the Nike Zeus...
In 1945 the United States Army began a project with Bell Laboratories to create a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The U.S. wanted a new system of air defense that could combat the jet aircrafts, whose speed and altitude allowed them to elude existing gun-based systems. Called Project Nike, the work led to the development of a series of anti-aircraft missile systems employed during the height of the Cold War. The Nike Ajax was introduced in 1953, followed by the Nike Hercules and Nike Zeus, each more technically advanced and powerful than its predecessor. With the development of ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) the value for the Nike air defense system decreased and over the 1960s their number was slowly but surely reduced.

We have no official documentation regarding how Senator Richard B. Russell came to posses this particular model. We do know that Russell served as the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1951 until 1969 and led the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission. This Nike model is only one of the dozens of model air crafts and missiles in the Russell Collection, all of which were likely gifts commemorating the launch or development of the new military advancements for America’s defense.

For more technical information on the capabilities and intended uses of the Nike Zeus, and to see the missile in action, I give you some historic footage (courtesy of the Internet Archive & Creative Commons):

April's “Outside the Box” object will be on display in the lobby gallery of the Russell Library, open 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday, until May 15th. For further information please contact or visit

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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